It is already difficult to miss Stephen A. Smith when consuming ESPN on a daily basis. And now over the next two weeks, it’s going to be next to impossible. Michael McCarthy is reporting ESPN is upping Smith’s workload during the NBA Finals with as many as eight primetime specials in addition to First Take, his radio show, and other appearances across the network. That means on certain days Smith will be doing his segment on Get Up, two hours of First Take, his two-hour radio show, and either a primetime First Take or SportsCenter to cap it all off.
With his contract set to expire in a few years, this is the type of schedule that echos louder throughout the offices of Bristol than the shows he will be featured on from morning until night over the next few weeks. Smith is aiming to become ESPN’s highest paid on-air talent with a $10 million a year salary. Despite not being everyone’s cup of tea, his willingness to perform around the clock has set him apart from the rest of his colleagues over the past five years. There are a few people on this earth that even have the ability to appear on-air that much, let alone would even think about saying yes to the task.
If ESPN were to lose Smith in a few years, not only would they lose his ratings, which are high, they would be in a tough spot trying to find a replacement to serve as the front-facing personality used all across the network like he is. If there is someone else at the network capable of this, either ESPN doesn’t want them to, or they don’t want to because no one else appears on the air remotely as much as Smith does.
News like this surely intrigues potential suitors, as well. Other networks may not have the air time that ESPN does, but that doesn’t mean rival executives aren’t already scheming all the possible ways they could use Smith. Turner, now merged with AT&T, appears to be Smith’s best option if he were to leave ESPN. His current workload could transition into a daily show on TNT, a strong presence on Bleacher Report, and segments on CNN. Smith, being the NBA guy that he is, makes Fox a less than ideal fit. But FS1 talks as much NBA as ESPN and could give him his own show, work him into segments on their other shows, and have him do radio on Fox Sports Radio. Adding Smith is one of the few options FS1 has to narrow the daily ratings gap between ESPN.
There is a counter here that ESPN has already been stretching Smith too thin and this increased amount of hours is only going to make it worse, fueled by the bevy of mistakes Smith has made over the past year talking football and baseball. He rarely fumbles NBA topics. It’s far from profound to say Smith greatly struggles talking anything other than the NBA, a topic he is one of the best in business at discussing. ESPN’s wisest move would be to make him a focal point on NBA Countdown and eliminate him from his radio show that touches on a variety of other sports. With that said, clearly, Smith is the type of personality that would want to add Countdown to his responsibilities in addition to his two other daily shows despite what is best for quality.
People will not love seeing Stephen A. Smith even more over the course of the NBA Finals. Perhaps another short series at the hands of the Warriors will lessen the blow to some. But there is no denying what this does do for him heading into what will be a groundbreaking contract negotiation period.